Movie Retrospective: The Mortal Storm (1940) by Mark Leeper.

December 15, 2019 | By | Reply More

It had been years since I have seen ‘The Mortal Storm’ (1940), and I think I saw it only once, but it was a jaw-dropper. It is a story set in a village in Germany. Fascism comes to the village and suddenly things are just not so pleasant any longer. When Nazism gets power it turns good friends into mortal enemies. Perhaps the strangest aspect of the film is the casting.

The story starts with a small group of friends much like you would find in the US or Northern Europe. When the Nazis take power from the government two of the friends find themselves on opposite sides of the conflict. James Stewart plays an anti-Nazi German resistor Martin Breitner. Robert Young as Fritz Marberg believes in the goals of the Nazis, Robert Stack as Otto Von Rohn also goes for the Nazi side. This brings the conflict down to a personal level. But what can Breitner do in a country going Nazi?

Now to tell the story, the film needed familiar actors, many with likeable screen personas who had to play Nazis and those characters had to play their roles as despicable. This includes Robert Young (of TV’s ‘Father Knows Best’) and Dan Daily as Nazi Hitler Youth bully Holl. There are a host of others from the positive side of the tracks, like Frank Morgan of The Wizard Of Oz’ as Professor Viktor Roth. The cast must have better than a dozen or more familiar actors.

It is really strange to see someone you have always seen cast in roles like the friendly old postman spouting Fascist rhetoric. The film is a warning of what the world could expect from the fascist dictators who were just about then coming to power and who would be responsible for millions of deaths in the years to shortly come.

The German Ambassador to the United States asked Louis B. Mayer to ‘think twice’ before releasing this movie. Meyer did and then released it anyway. Germany banned importing any MGM films while the Third Reich was in power.

The trailers were produced trying to NOT tell the ticket buyer what it was about. What was it about? It was about life in a happy little Germanic country and how things change when the Nazis come to power.

These days the film has become a real rarity. TCM had not shown the film since 2004, but ran it in August.

Oh, I should mention that the film stars Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan. Also featured are Robert Stack, Maria Ouspenskaya, and Ward Bond.

(c) Mark R. Leeper 2019.


Category: Films, MEDIA

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